Introduction

Fungi are key agents of nutrient cycling and thus of central importance to any understanding of carbon sequestration and nutrient cycling processes in all terrestrial ecosystems. However, mycologists have historically tended to have a sylvan bias and most fungal ecologists (as evidenced by several chapters in this book) have focused on woodland systems, resulting in wide knowledge of wood-decay fungi (Rayner and Boddy, 1988) and ectomycorrhizal taxa (Smith and Read, 1997). Similarly most fungal forays are held in woodland habitats where a diverse array of resources and host plants contribute to much higher levels of fungal diversity than are found in other habitats such as grasslands.

Of the 3,600 macrofungi found in the Netherlands, 80% are prevalent in woodlands (Arnolds and de Vries, 1989). Of the 20% of taxa generally found in non-wooded habitats, 10% (ca. 360 species) showed a preference for grasslands. Grassland basidiomycetes have received greater attention in recent decades, initially in Scandinavia (Rald, 1985; Arnolds, 1992a), and more recently in the UK (Rotheroe et al., 1996) and other parts of Europe (Adamcik and Kautmanova, 2005). This increase in attention was spurred by the precipitous loss of semi-natural grassland habitats ('traditional' lowland haymeadows) due to modern mechanized agriculture, mainly through ploughing of permanent pastures and application of synthetic fertilizers. Thus, the study of the ecology of grassland basidiomycetes has largely been driven by conservation concerns (Chapter 17), although it is clear that elucidation of the role played by basidiomycetes and other fungi in grassland nutrient cycling is important for understanding the dynamics of carbon sequestration in the context of global climate change.

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